17th century alchemist’s scroll realises $786,000

A 17th century alchemist’s scroll achieved £584,750 ($786,196) at Christie’s London yesterday.

That’s almost double its £300,000 ($403,350) estimate – making this the first time in the item’s history that it’s actually made some gold.

Alchemy scroll auction

The scroll features exquisite illustrations 

The text of the document is drawn from the works of 15th century alchemist and poet George Ripley and features instructions for turning base metals into gold and the recipe for the elixir of life.

The problem is, those instructions are impossibly cryptic.

That didn’t stop a huge number of people from trying over the centuries. Even the great Sir Isaac Newton had a go.

Kay Sutton, Christie’s director of medieval manuscripts, explained: “Up to the 18th century, alchemy was viewed as a proper scientific discipline, regarded perfectly seriously.

"Alchemists had two objectives.

“One was to manufacture the Philosopher’s Stone, a sort of mythical entity — magical, wonderful, and capable of transmuting a base metal into gold.

“The other aim was to manufacture the elixir that would give you eternal life and cure all ills.”

Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize for Literature achieved £187,500 ($252,093).

This is only the second literature prize to auction. The other belonged to William Faulkner, author of As I Lay Dying. It was offered in 2013, but withdrawn after it failed to reach its reserve.

Lessing’s medal sold for less than medals awarded to lesser known scientists. This suggests that Nobel Prizes in the sciences are more highly prized among collectors.

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